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The Carpenters Arms, gangster pub

October 22, 2009
by the gentle author

Carpenters arms

When this photo was taken, The Carpenters’ Arms in Cheshire St was the most notorious pub in London – owned by the gangster twins, Reggie and Ronnie Kray who bought it in 1967 for their mother Violet. They grew up in house just a hundred yard away at 178 Vallance Road, went to Wood Close School in Brick Lane and as youngsters frequented the Repton Boys’ Boxing Club (London’s oldest  boxing gym, established in 1884 and still in existence) midway between the pub and their home. This was their manor, they hung their boxing gloves over the Carpenters’ crest behind the bar and such was their gallows humour that (so the story goes) they had the counter made up from coffin lids.

The Krays were pair of cruel psychopaths who became the most infamous of East End gangsters and bizarrely sought out the society of celebrities in the vain hope of drawing attention from their litany of crimes. It is strange to me that Barbara Windsor (someone for whom I have great respect) can claim to have known nothing of the brothers’ criminal activities while she was dating Reggie. Eventually, both twins ended up convicted with life sentences for murder and the whole story came to its grim conclusion when Reggie Kray’s funeral cortege passed by the Carpenters’ on its way down Cheshire St on 11th October 2000.

Nowadays, the Carpenters’ is a welcoming place with a fashionable clientele and an impressive range of over fifty different ales from all over the world, landlords Eric and Nigel keep it as fresh as a pin and there is always a large display of fresh flowers on the bar.

Before they took over, Eric and Nigel were regular customers here and when the previous management went bankrupt early in this decade, they struggled for years to obtain the lease, fighting off property developers who wanted to turn it into flats. When they moved in, it had been shut for four years and the place was stripped out, only the bar counter remained. Constructed of panels of glossy heavy timber – this could be the Krays’ coffin-lid counter. Nigel told me the Krays decorated the place in a faux Regency style with striped wallpaper to match their West End nightclub, and he pointed to a chip in the paint on one of the cast iron roof pillars revealing the burgundy colour scheme of that period.

Nationwide, thirty six pubs are closing every week and in this climate a pub has to be special to survive. But I have every confidence that, in this current celebrated incarnation under Eric and Nigel’s joint landlordship, the Carpenters will be here for us for a long time. I like to pop in regulary for a drink early in the week on a quiet night and now, apart from a discreetly placed print of the long-departed evil twins, you would never guess at its sinister past.

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14 Responses leave one →
  1. October 22, 2009

    I recently discovered your wonderful blog via All Things Considered. I’ve been wanting to stay in Princelet Street (courtesy of the Landmark Trust) for a long time but haven’t yet managed to find the time. But until I do so, your blog is a marvellous peek into life in Spitalfields and I now have a long list of things to see and do and eat when I finally get there.

  2. Kate Mattiasson permalink
    February 23, 2011

    This was the pub that my family used many years ago, my Grandmother Mrs Henrietta Austin lived just down the road and I remember as a child sitting outside the pub whilst my dad bought us out drink’s, we were then allowed to go in the pub when they were all tipsy and sit in the corner hidden by our parents and listen to all the “East Enders” singing the Old Songs! I loved every minute of it.

    I live in Essex now but my friend Susan still lives in Hackney and when we go on our walks to the Lane or Spitalfields Market on a Sunday I always pop my head in the pub and say “Hello” to all my relative who sadly are no longer with us. (Bless them all).

  3. Sita Aley permalink
    March 26, 2011

    My ancestors James and Mary Aley lived in the Carpenters Arms in 1851 with their family – not sure for how long can only find the 1851 census records that mentions them living there – in 1841 they were living in Kent.

  4. gee permalink
    October 31, 2011

    reg was a mate, shame that he was so misunderstood, one thing is that the manor was better in every way when the twins were around, not perfect but better than now.

  5. Matthew permalink
    March 12, 2013

    @gee

    yes, it’s always tricky to understand why someone would lead a psychopathic, murderous lifestyle…

  6. alexia permalink
    April 14, 2013

    I bet that you matthew never even met the man and are basing your comment on the film etc… they werent perfect but yes I met Reg and no matter what you can say he respected women and children.

  7. gemma lawrinson permalink
    May 5, 2013

    I agree Alexia most of these critics are only going off the film and whatever crap they read on the internet etc . They did respect women and children and worshipped their mum so in my books that’s not what i would call a pair of ‘evil men’ yes they did some bad things but they had a reputation to uphold and business is business in my eyes.

  8. Barbara permalink
    June 12, 2013

    And how did they respect women and children?????? By murdering their husbands, sons , fathers…………….

  9. frank hadley permalink
    September 13, 2013

    I went to wood close school which can be seen behind the pub. it was in wood close off cheshire street.and next to st. matthews church. cheshire street market used to be very busy on sunday’s. sadly all the old markets in the area are dying out with the exception of columbia road flower market.

  10. Susie permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Reginald Kray di dnot date Barbara Windsor (then known as Barbara Deeks, she merely had a one night stand with him. She did however have a brief affair with his elder brother Charlie while he was married to Dolly Kray. If you read her autobiography, you will discover more. Love that the pub is still there!! Shame that their home is not as although it needed modernisation, the structure was better that what has replaced it, the replacement lacks charm and is rather souless. Nowadays they would simply ‘gut the insides of a shabby home, retaining the exterior. Afterall, these old houses withstood two World Wars!! The wind brings down ‘modern houses’ of today’s builds. Rant over.

  11. Ken Foot permalink
    October 29, 2013

    So glad this pub as reopened and will make a point of visiting next time I have a reunion with old schoolfriends in the area.
    I worked as a lad on a market stall right outside the pub on a Sunday morning when the Brick Lane/Cheshire Street market was in its heydays during the early 60′s. Saturday’s were spent on the same stall in Hoxton market – happy days.

  12. October 29, 2013

    I went to Hague Street primary school and although I was younger than the Krays & never new them, I have always been led to believe that they were also pupils at Hague Street.

  13. David permalink
    January 13, 2014

    This is a lovely pub and, it was nice to see it restored. But I must say I didn’t approve of the Kray Twin artwork, even if it is on the official Kray Twin walk. I’m sure the landlord wouldn’t be so quick to erect a shrine to them, if they were still around demanding protection money from their hard work. Let’s stop idolising villains, and instead start recognising the hard working people that built and lived in the East End (which this website does so well).

  14. phil mallinson permalink
    June 15, 2014

    Popped in yesterday great pub we were on a day out in London,went to the house jack the hat was stabbed,vallance rd to where the Krays house used to be,also went in the royal oak,it was sort of a Krays day

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